A wonderful couple I know have five grown children who are interracial, intercultural and sort of interfaith. The Chinese mom converted before marriage and is now trained as a mohel. The couple raised their children Jewish and Chinese. Yup, they got asked questions like, “Are you adopted?” “Is your mother Jewish?” “How come you’re in a synagogue; do you want to convert?”

But this wise couple knew what was in store for their kids and they prepared them. They knew the kids would be asked questions when the parents were not around to step in. They wanted their kids to feel strong ownership of their Jewish identities.

Their family is interfaith in that all of mom’s side of the family is not Jewish. Some of the 5 kids have married non-Jewish spouses and are raising Jewish kids – just like Mom and Dad did.

The systematic teaching of the children to be confident and comfortable as Chinese Jews was brilliant. It reminded me of some of my African American friends who said, “I’ll teach my kids what to expect in the white world. I’LL be the voice they hear, they’ll be ready for racist ignorance.”

On November 10, I will be sharing the strategies that this couple – and many adults who grew up in interfaith families – advocate doing to help kids in interfaith families grow up confident and comfortable with who they are.
Raising a Confident Child in an Interfaith Family

I hope to see you on the tenth.

How Jesus Became God (Alameda)
Or HaLev – Jewish Meditation (San Mateo)
Dispelling (Religious) Myths (Pleasanton)
Raising a Confident Child in an Interfaith Family (Berkeley)
Preschool Science Fair! (Foster City)
Mourning and Grief: After Death (Walnut Creek)
Fourth Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service (Livermore)
Klezmer Shabbat (San Francisco)
Chanukah Festival (Redwood City)

How Jesus Became God
How did the radical Jewish learner, Jesus, change Judaism and the World?
Rabbi Brickner will lead a discussion, following a DVD screening that traces one of history’s most significant movements led by a world-changing Jew: Jesus. The radical Jew? Prophetic Jew? The promised Messiah?
The series will discuss issues such as the historic, scientific, cultural and spiritual context of Israel and the Mid-East during the Roman era, key events and personalities, different perceptions of Jesus.

Dates: Sundays, Nov. 6 and 13
Time: 10:30am to noon
Place: Temple Israel, 3183 Mecartney Rd., Alameda

Or HaLev – Jewish Meditation
For the last 14 years, Or HaLev (Light of the Heart) – the Center for Jewish Spirituality at PTBE – has provided the opportunity for one of our meditation teachers to teach about a different Jewish topic related to mindfulness meditation along with one or two short sits. Whether you are an experienced meditator or have never meditated before, please join us!

Dates: Mondays, November 7, 14, 21, 28
Time: 7:00 to 8:15 pm
Place: Peninsula Temple Beth El, 1700 Alameda de las Pulgas, San Mateo

Dispelling (Religious) Myths
Our topic will be “What myths would you like to dispel about your religion or religious practice? What are frequent misconceptions?” The speakers will be Imam Tahir Anwar of the Muslim Community Center and Robin Wood, Jewish Educator. Religion Chat is sponsored by Interfaith Interconnect the second Wednesday of every month.

Date: Wednesday, November 9
Time: 5:00 – 6:00 pm
Place: Muslim Community Center, 5724 West Las Positas Blvd., Pleasanton.
(Please enter from the school side of the building, Suite 100.)
For more information contact the Interfaith Interconnect by emailing to:

Raising a Confident Child in an Interfaith Family
A child needs happy, loving parents more than anything else. They also deserve to feel comfortable with their own identity. We’ll come together to discuss what parents are currently doing, what they may want to alter and to talk about planning for your child’s religious traditions.

Date: Thursday, November 10
Time: 7:30 – 9:00 pm
Place: Lehrhaus Judaica, 2736 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
Cost: $12 per couple; $8 per person; no one turned away for lack of funds
Register here

Preschool Science Fair!
Wornick Jewish Day School and PJ Library invite you to a morning of science exploration especially for children ages 3 to 5 and their families.

Date: Sunday, November 13
Time: 10 am to Noon
Place: Wornick Jewish Day School, 800 Foster City Boulevard, Foster City
Admission is free. Lunch will be served.
Advanced registration is required at their website.

Mourning and Grief: After Death
In this essential session we will address Kaddish basics, what the Jewish tradition says about mourning and grief and memory, and how to gather community support. We will create a safe place to share special cases such as stillbirth and neonatal death; sudden, and traumatic death. We will explore the customs of the first year and talk about “When does grief really end?”

Date: Nov. 13
Time: 10:30am to noon
Place: B’nai Tikvah, 25 Hillcroft Way, Walnut Creek
Cost: $10
Register here.

Fourth Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service
All are invited to attend this year’s Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, ‘Our Common Humanity.’ The service is free, but space is limited, so please register on Eventbrite.
Through readings, music, and reflections, our many faith communities will explore the common ground that unites us all. During the service an offering will be accepted; donations will go to Big Heart Wellness Center after minimal event costs are covered.

Interfaith Interconnect comprises sixteen Tri-Valley congregations. Its mission is, “To enrich, inform and educate ourselves and others about the great diversity of faiths and cultures in our valley.”

Date: Sunday, November 20
Time: 5:30–6:30pm
Place: St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, 678 Enos Way, Livermore
Simple reception in the church hall immediately following the service.

Klezmer Shabbat
Come light candles, sing songs, delight in familiar prayers melded with klezmer rhythms and melodies, dance, and of course, eat and drink!

Cantor Sharon Bernstein will be joined by master klezmorim Stu Brotman on bass, Sheldon Brown on clarinet, and Ilana Sherer on violin, and Josh Horowitz on accordian. And, the magnetic Bruce Bierman will provide dance support and instruction.

Date: December 2
Time: 7:30pm
Place: Sha’ar Zahav, 290 Dolores St (@16th St), San Francisco

Chanukah Festival
Come eat some latkes, buy your presents from our vendors, enjoy our Preschoolers in Concert, and of course see friends.

Date: Sunday, December 11
Time: 11:00am – 2:30pm
Place: Congregation Beth Jacob, 1550 Alameda de las Pulgas, Redwood City

Posted by admin under Chanukah, Children, Community Activities, Death & Mourning, Parenting
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New Year Secular urj

We are delighted to offer a couple of special programs for Jews by Choice. Anyone is welcome to both of these. You don’t need to be a convert to attend.

Everything You Wanted to Know about Conversion to Judaism
Join a panel of Jews by choice and Rabbi Delson to learn all about conversion! Have you had questions like:
why do some people convert?
What changes in their lives?
What is the process of converting?
How do single people who convert integrate into Jewish community?
Is it harder for people of color to convert?
Are there things I should never ask of or say to a person I think is a convert?

Date: Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016
Time: 9:15am to 10:45am
Peninsula Temple Sholom, 1655 Sebastian Dr., Burlingame
Cost: $5 public; free to members of PTS and those working with the PTS rabbis.
Sign up here

This program is aimed at Jews by Choice but much of what will be discussed is applicable to interfaith families who are trying to figure out end of life choices. You are welcome to come and learn about Jewish mourning and burial practices.

Death and Mourning for the Jew by Choice
At some point we all lose loved ones. The person who has converted to Judaism will eventually be faced with mourning a non-Jewish relative. What is appropriate behavior for a Jewish mourner who has lost a non-Jewish loved one? What are the options for dealing with funeral masses, “visitations” at funeral homes, and the funeral itself? What about Jewish mourning practices, shiva and sheloshim? The potential for isolation is great, but certainly isolation is not what Jewish tradition seeks for a mourner!

A member of an interfaith family may have some of the same questions. How do I honor my loved one yet find comfort for myself?

Join Rabbi Ruth Adar for a two session class that is open to anyone interested in grieving in a multi-faith family with a special focus on how a Jewish convert may honor their non-Jewish loved ones and their own feelings and adopted tradition.

The first session will meet at Temple Sinai and will address the basics of Jewish mourning. The second session will be in a private home in San Leandro where Rabbi Adar will model a home observing shiva. Students will be able to ask hands on questions, to see and hold the objects associated with shiva.

Feb. 4 and 11
7:30 to 9pm
Temple Sinai and a private home in San Leandro
Cost: $15
Sign up here.

Posted by admin under Conversion, Death & Mourning, Jewish Learning, Life Cycle, Programs archive
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Jewish coffin

Recently a woman wrote to me about her first experience with death and shiva as a Jew. Here’s what she said:
I am a recent convert and a single mother. My sister died recently. When I got the news, I was paralyzed and didn’t know what to do. I had been told that once the word of my sister’s passing got out, people would flock to my door with food, comforting visits and offers to watch my child so I could have time to grieve, but nothing happened. I went to work and kept up with my housework. My rabbi offered to help, but I really didn’t know what to ask for. And actually, I’m not good at asking for help. It felt like people were pretty hands off. People did attend the service, but there was no food since we held the shiva at the temple. My shiva experience could have benefited from more support. What should I know for next time? — Still grieving

She is not alone. Anyone who is not securely embedded in their synagogue community could feel at sea when grief hits. Here is what I answered her in my column, Mixed and Matched.

Posted by admin under Conversion, Death & Mourning, Mixed & Matched
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shiva candle

This is an excellent article from Kveller on how to make a difficult shiva call. Frankly, all shiva calls are difficult. You are going to the home of a mourner and sitting with their terrible grief.

How to Make a Tragic Shiva Call offers eleven rules that can apply to any shiva call. As the author says, “Shiva calls are scary. We are scared to go to visit those mourning the sudden, too-early, tragic loss of a loved one. We are scared that we’ll make it worse. We’re scared that we’ll catch their pain and won’t be able to cope with it. We’re scared that we won’t know what to say. Sometimes these fears overwhelm us, and we decide not to go.”

I thought her statement, “We’re scared we’ll catch their pain and won’t be able to cope with it,” is simply brilliant. It does indeed require of us that we not overly identify with the mourner. To be of help we must focus on what their needs are, not create needs in ourselves.

Read the article; I think you’ll find it most helpful.

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Sometimes it’s easier to learn about something by watching a video. That can be especially true when the thing you are learning about is a sensitive topic. G-dcast has created a number of videos addressing elements of Jewish life. This one, on Jewish mourning practices, covers the basic issues that you will encounter in regard to a death and mourning.

A Jewish Guide to What To Expect at Shiva, and How to Help Your Friend in Mourning

G-dcast Guide to Mourning (2)

Posted by admin under Death & Mourning, Jewish Culture, Life Cycle
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mourning candle

Some of you know that I receive just about all of the synagogue e-newsletters. Sometimes the rabbis use that vehicle to contact their members. Not long ago I received an email from a Conservative congregation who had a recent loss. It is a useful way of illustrating some aspects of Shiva practice.

The rabbi said:

Yesterday we had the sad and moving funeral, burial, and first day of shiva for our beloved Lottie. Lottie’s daughters Janet and Myra are sitting shiva in Lottie’s home.

While most of our members receive shiva visitors around the time of the minyan service, the more traditional practice that Janet and Myra observe is to receive visitors throughout the day.

Please visit any time in the upcoming days after 9 in the morning: today, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday (until Shabbat). Minyan in the evening is at 6:45. Please note the time is different from our usual, to allow for both the afternoon and evening services to be observed. It is very important to have a minyan each evening, and I encourage attendance there as well.

There is no public mourning on Shabbat, but we will have a service following the conclusion of Shabbat at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Finally, our Cares Committee is coordinating people to help set up the home around 6:30 in the evening, and clean up at the end of the evening (around 8:45).

What do we learn from this?
First, that the traditional shiva practice is to hold a daily minyan for a week, minus Shabbat (Friday night at sundown to Saturday at sundown). Second, that a minyan is present three times a day for the traditional three daily prayer services. Third, that the community takes care of the mourners, sets up in preparation of the gathering and clears up afterwards. The mourners are mourning; that’s all that is expected of them. Period.

Posted by admin under Community, Death & Mourning
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Belle in Montclair

In December my sister died. There was Jewish ritual and community to gather around me and comfort me. Just two months later my beloved old dog died. A dear rabbi friend told me, “all deaths will bring up previous losses and these two deaths come very close together. Don’t be surprised if you feel a resurgence of your grief for your sister.” He was right.

A number of people sent me sympathy cards after my sister passed. Then I was surprised to receive cards and notes about my dog too. A woman at my synagogue mailed me a page from the book, The Book of Sacred Jewish Practices, which addresses loss of a pet. I had no idea there was any Jewish guidance for loss of a pet so I thought I’d share it with you. My children have taken the death of their beloved pet very hard. If your child needs a funeral or other Jewish practice for a pet, try some of these out.

Saying Good Bye to a Pet

Saying Good Bye to a Pet

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Death & Mourning, Jewish Learning
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condolences candle

Burial and Mourning in Jewish Tradition
A unique opportunity for interfaith families to learn about a difficult topic-issues around death and mourning, from your own family’s perspective. Is cremation OK? Can my partner and I be buried together? Join Dawn Kepler and Robin Reiner for a short introduction to Jewish traditions and a lively, open discussion of options for interfaith families. Great snacks, ample humor and candid conversation await you!

Date: Sunday, March 30
Time: 9:30 to 11:30
Place: Temple Sinai, in the Albers Chapel, 2808 Summit St., Oakland, between 29th and 30th.
For more information contact Dawn at

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Observing death in a Jewish home

In any family it is important to discuss how people will respond to a death. In an interfaith family this is particularly important because there is no shared tradition to fall back on.

Here are some basics about Shiva, to help you understand the role of observing shiva and to help you decide whether you are going to want to do this in your family. Different choices can be made for different family members.

Remember, you will need help and you can and should call your rabbi.

The role of the mourner
The mourner has no responsibilities. Whenever I read about the rituals around death and mourning I think that the ancient rabbis were the first therapists. Instead of leaving the grieving person to run around trying to bury their loved one, keep their job going, do the shopping, and feed the kids they said, STOP! The mourner must mourn and the community must care for them. This means that, for the mourners, all the daily tasks immediately end. Further, they are not expected to make polite conversation or to inquire after others. They are in an alternate reality. If you have ever grieved a loved one you know what I’m talking about. Things don’t matter anymore. The earth seems bare without your beloved one. You don’t care what others think, you may be so grief stricken that you can’t eat.

Jewish law states that the mourners do bathe or shave. The mirrors of the home are covered so that they are not distracted by their appearance. They tear their clothes as a symbol of the fact that their loved one has been torn away from them. A tear on the left side over the heart indicates the loss was a parent and a tear over the right side indicates other relatives. The tear is made at the time of hearing of the death or at the burial. In modern times you will often see a torn ribbon pinned to clothing rather than a literal tear.

The community is to bring food to the house of mourning FOR the mourners. Often these days I see a spread put out for the people who come to the shiva. But food is actually not supposed to be for the visitors; it is for the family so that they don’t have to cook. Often grief makes us lose our appetite. Who wants to cook then? So the community provides. Still if there are fifteen platters of cold cuts the food is often fed to the visitors because there is too much for the family. Typically one sees the community providing a big spread at a shiva.

At the house of mourning
It is a mitzvah, a positive commandment (sacred obligation), to go to a house of mourning, to comfort the bereaved and to assure that there will be a minyan (ten Jews, ten male Jews in an Orthodox home) to recite the prayer for the deceased with the bereaved family.

Traditionally you bring food to a house of mourning. It need not be on any particular day. So if you miss the first day, bring them something later. When taking food it is common to take round (or oval) food to symbolize the circle of life. You’ll see lentil dishes and hard boiled eggs. But any food is fine. Take a salad, a casserole, a loaf of bread. In a traditional environment you say a blessing before eating. When you eat at a shiva, preceded with a blessing, your blessing is said “for” the deceased and it is to their credit.

You are not supposed to speak to a mourner but to respond when spoken too. However, many people are uncomfortable in total silence and it is appropriate to say something simple like, I am so sorry for your loss. This allows them to control the conversation and to talk about what they want, with whom they want. In conversation with the mourner you are supposed to talk about their memories of their loved one, recalling times of health and happiness. The goal is to support positive memories rather than only the recent difficult times.

Traditionally the mourners sit on the floor or on low stools reflecting their state of mind.

After the week of shiva those close to the mourner are to walk with them down the street and back. This symbolized the gradual return to daily life.

The goal of the week of shiva is to allow the mourner to live in the reality of their loss. If any of you have lost a loved one you know the things that run through your mind – is this true? How can I go back and prevent it? Word will come and they won’t actually be dead. I can’t bear this; I won’t be able to go on. The mourner needs support thorough a period that may feel un-survivable.

Jewish law prescribes that the family will observe shiva (sit shiva) for seven days. The Hebrew word, shiva, comes from the word for seven. They do NOT sit on Shabbat, so no shiva on a Friday night. So you actually sit for six nights. In a Reform or Conservative home the family may opt to sit fewer nights.

It can be helpful to see what Jewish law prescribes so that you will understand the basis on which the variations of Conservative, Reform, Renewal, Reconstructionist and secular Judaism builds. Here is a website that goes into great detail.

Of course, call or email me if you want to discuss any of this in greater detail or relation to your own life.

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sun on graves

Where and how will each of us be buried?

I’ve been asked how to plan for a funeral in an interfaith family. What things should be taken into consideration in order to plan for that inevitable day when one spouse must bury the other? Can the non-Jew be buried in a Jewish cemetery? Who will do the service? What can non-Jewish clergy do in a Jewish cemetery? I have a friend who is a Jewish funeral director, so I sent her this question:

Dear Robin,
I would like to send out information to my interfaith couples about when, where and how a non-Jewish spouse can be buried in a Jewish cemetery with the Jewish partner. Could you send me a brief description for bay area couples?

Robin’s answer:
First, the general picture. The majority of Bay Area Jewish cemeteries do allow burial of a non-Jewish spouse next to the Jewish spouse. There may be some restrictions. For example, if a non-Jewish spouse dies before the Jewish spouse, the cemetery may require purchase of two adjacent graves–one for the Jewish spouse and one for the non-Jewish spouse–at the same time. They want to ensure that a non-Jew is buried there only if married to a Jewish spouse
Many Bay Area Jewish cemeteries have one or more sections for Orthodox congregations or individuals. Burial in that section may be controlled by a particular congregation (e.g. the Adath Israel section at Eternal Home Cemetery in Colma), or a group of Orthodox rabbis (e.g. the B’nai Emunah section at Gan Shalom Cemetery near Orinda). To be buried in that section, the deceased must be Jewish according to Orthodox law. The deceased must also meet Orthodox burial requirements–e.g. use a”kosher” casket, have tahara done (Jewish purification ritual), be dressed in tachrichim (Jewish burial garments), the grave is completely filled before the participants leave the cemetery, etc. A non-Jewish relative–spouse, sibling, child–would not be allowed burial in such a section
One Bay Area Jewish cemetery, Home of Peace in Oakland, is an entirely Orthodox property. It does not allow burial of any non-Jew on its property.
A Jewish funeral home will certainly know local cemeteries’ policies for interfaith couples and can advise the family before or after a death occurs. Calling the cemetery directly is just as effective, though staff at one cemetery may not know the policies at other cemeteries.
The Bay Area’s Jewish cemeteries (or inter-denominational cemeteries with a separate Jewish section) are generally more liberal than Jewish cemeteries in the Midwest or on the East Coast.

Steps to avoid future problems:

1. Every couple (interfaith or not) should have an open discussion about each partner’s burial wishes–are there other family members already buried at a particular cemetery? Is it essential that the partners be buried side-by-side at the same cemetery? Who should officiate at each person’s funeral? Do both partners plan to have a traditional ground burial, or might the non-Jewish spouse prefer cremation or placement in an above-ground crypt?

2. Before buying burial space, find out the cemetery’s policies about interfaith couples. Under what circumstances can a non-Jewish spouse be buried there? Must the couple buy two adjacent plots at the same time?

3. Ask the cemetery for a copy of its Rules and Regulations. A Jewish cemetery will probably limit the inscription permitted on a marker to traditional Jewish symbols only (Star of David, menorah) and prohibit other religious symbols (cross, angel). Jewish cemeteries will usually prohibit use of non-Jewish clergy to lead a burial service if the prayers, rituals, etc. are used from another religion.

4. Consult a funeral director before services are needed. You may want to have pre-need arrangements in place so each partner’s wishes are clearly stated in writing, to avoid future conflict within the family. Prepayment is not required, just a visit to a funeral home.

Dawn to Robin: I have one question about non-Jewish clergy – can you have a priest if he doesn’t say any Christian prayers? What would he be doing; just attending?

Robin’s answer:
An excellent question. I’ll give you an example.
I directed a service at a non-denominational cemetery for a man who had a living, non-Jewish spouse. The wife wanted her Unitarian minister to officiate. For Sinai Memorial Chapel to serve this family, she could use the minister to conduct the service but not with non-Jewish prayers, rituals, etc. So the minister led a generic service–no pall over the casket with a cross or anything, no mention of Jesus, no holy water sprinkled on the casket, no traditional Christian prayers. He wore a plain suit, not a minister’s robe or priest’s collar. He used the 23rd psalm because it’s used in both faiths and gave a wonderful eulogy.

To summarize, here’s what the non-Jewish clergy CAN do:
o offer the eulogy
o lead prayers which do not refer to Jesus, heaven, etc.

Here’s what non-Jewish clergy CANNOT DO:
o wear clerical robes of another faith
o say prayers of another faith which conflict with Jewish faith, e.g. Hail Mary, the Lord’s Prayer
o use symbols of another faith, e.g. casket pall with a cross

More information from specific branches of Judaism read these articles online.
Reform Judaism
Conservative Judaism
Modern Orthodox Judaism

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